“Changemakers: The Extraordinary Lives of Ordinary Women in the Bombay Presidency”—an exhibition showcasing the lives and works of hundred women who broke societal prejudices a century ago—was inaugurated at Shanti Sadan in Ahmedabad on Friday. The exhibition is on till April 10 (except Mondays) from 11am to 5pm.
“The canvasses picture women of the Bombay Presidency who worked for social change in the early 19th century. We assume that women’s liberation started in Europe but forget that the movement staged some acts in India too, and in a completely different way. In fact, in some cases, men helped their wives and daughters get an education and discover their own freedom,” stated exhibition curator Neeta Premchand.
So, how did the idea occur?
To which Neeta Premchand said “Nearly a decade ago, I came across a box at home with most of the names mounted here. That was the beginning of my journey to unravelling most of these little-known-of personalities. Not only did they ease the hardships for other women in that era, some of them went on to play crucial roles in the Indian Freedom Movement.”
This exhibition documents “undocumented women” who worked hard to bring about social changes over 100 years ago. In a largely patriarchal society, when education was believed to bring bad luck when the age of marriage was under 9, and the life of a widow was too challenging to imagine, these women worked hard and passionately to bring about social change.
They tried to build a new life for other women by providing them with education rights, building shelters for the victims of child marriage, and improving maternal and childcare facilities with the support of men with liberal views.
In their fight for equality, they were helped by reformers such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Jyotirao Govindrao Phule, Dr BR Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dyananda Saraswati, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Baba Amte.
The Bombay Presidency comprised an administrative subdivision of the government of British India. Poverty, overcrowding and lack of sanitation facilities were major issues. The deadly plague epidemic, followed by outbreaks of cholera, smallpox and influenza worsened matters.
Mortality played an important role, for example, if a girl was widowed before she reached puberty and at any time thereafter, she was condemned to spend the rest of her life with a shorn head and broken angels, always dressed in white with mercy and abuse of relatives. And if she becomes pregnant she was thrown out of the house with nowhere to go.
It is a saying that “time changes and never wait for anyone”, in a very slow pace reformers, men started to encourage and motivated women . Women and young uneducated girls find themselves running large business empires seeing the need for education and starting schools for them.
India in its mid-19th century was in the phase of strong patriarchy, women had little freedom and no education. Strict rules and swift punishment did not allow for any independence.
100 Women 100 stories
Names such as
- Sarladevi Sarabhai, Tarabai Premchand, Cornelia Sorabji, Bai Jerbai Wadia,
- Anandibai Joshi, Bahinabai Choudari, Maniben Kara, Flora Sassoon,
- Tarabai Shinde, Parvatibai Athavale, Kashibai Kantikar,
- Dosebai Jesswala, Bhikaji Cama, Rahat-Un-Naffa are featured in the showing.